Start Up Powering Up Most Remote Places

Can a company exploit an untapped market and do good at the same time? Fenix thinks so. The San Francisco start up has unveiled a micro power generation and distribution platform aimed at the 1.6 billion people around the globe who live without electricity.

Fenix said its ReadySet energy system “charges from virtually any energy source, including solar, micro-wind, micro-hydro and human power.” The human-power aspect is particularly interesting: using the Fenix Velo attachment, the system can charge a phone with a mere 5-10 minutes of pedaling. Fully charging the battery — enough power to charge 10 phones — isn’t exactly a Contadorian feat either, taking an hour on the bike. Alternatively, you can sit by in the sunshine, sipping a cold one, and let the Fenix Solar attachment charge the battery in six hours.

image via Fenix International

Perhaps the biggest challenge Fenix faces is getting its product to the “frontier markets” it’s targeting, places such as East and West Africa. The hope is that big mobile telecoms will do a lot of the heavy lifting, seeing the opportunity to vastly expand their customer base.

At $150 a pop for volume orders, the system is hardly within reach of the world’s poorest people for home use. And that’s not Fenix’s intention: It sees owner/users as going into the business of providing energy to the masses. “The ReadySet allows users to increase their income by selling energy services and replacing dangerous, unhealthy and expensive forms of energy such as kerosene and disposable batteries,” founder and CEO Mike Lin said in a press release.

Fenix said its battery lasts 2-3 years, at which point the battery could theoretically be recycled and replaced by an authorized service center.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.